In praise of an editor past

Frances William Browin from the September 15, 1968 Friends Journal.
When I became an editor at Friends Journal in 2011, I inherited an institution with some very strong opinions. Some of them are sourced from predictable wellsprings: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s foundational mid-century style guide and the editorial offices of the Chicago Manual of Style. But some is all our own, logically tested for consistency with Chicago but adapted to Quaker idiosyncrasies.

One of our most invariable (and contested) formats comes from the way we list congregations. Quick aside for non-Quakers: you will often see a Quaker meeting listed as  Town Monthly Meeting, Town Friends Meeting, Town Quaker Meeting, etc. People often have strong opinions about the correct ways to write them out. Sometimes an author will insist to me that their meeting has an official name that is use consistently but I can usually find this isn't true within a few minutes with the help of Google.

To cut through this, Friends Journal uses “Town (State) Meeting” everywhere and always, with specific exceptions only for cases where that doesn’t work. Town, state abbreviation in parentheses, capital-M meeting. This formatting is unique to Friends Journal--other Philadelphia-based Quaker style sheets don't follow it. We’ve been doing it this distinctively and consistently for as long as I can remember.

Fortunately we have digital archives going back to the mid-1950s thanks to Haverford College's Quaker and Special Collections. So a few months ago I dug into our archives and used keyword searches to see how far back the format goes. Traveling the years back it time it's held remarkably steady as "Town (State) Meeting" until we scroll back into the fall of 1962. The October 15 issue doesn’t have consistent meeting listings. But it does announce that longtime Friends Journal editor William Hubben is going on a six-month sabbatical, with Frances Williams Browin filling in as acting editor.

It didn't take her long. The next issue sees a few parentheses unevenly applied. But by the November 15th issue, nineteen meetings are referenced using our familiar format! There’s the “member of Berkeley (Calif.) Meeting” who had just published a pamphlet of Christmas songs for children, an FCNL event featuring skits and a covered-dish supper at “Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting” and the announcement of a prominent article by “Kenneth E. Boulding, a member of Ann Arbor (Michigan) Meeting.”

I've tried to imagine the scene... Browin situated in her new temporary office... going back and forth, forth and back on some listing... then finally surprising herself by shouting "enough!" so loudly she had to apologize to nearby colleagues. At the end of the six months, Hubben came back but only as a contributing editor, and Browin was named editor. Friends Journal board member Elizabeth B Wells wrote a profile of her upon her retirement in 1968:

Her remarks usually made sparks, whether she was expressing an opinion (always positive), exerting pressure (not always gentle), or making a humorous aside (often disturbing). For in her amiable way she can be tart, unexpected, even prejudiced (in the right direction), then as suddenly disarmingly warm and sensitive.

This sounds like the kind of person who would standardize a format with such resolve it would be going strong 55 years later:

She was so entirely committed to putting out the best possible magazine, such a perfectionist, even such a driver, that her closest colleagues often felt that we knew the spirited editor far better than the Quaker lady.

It’s a neat profile. And today, every time an author rewrites their meeting’s name on a copyedited manuscript, I say a quiet thanks to the driven perfectionist who gives me permission to be prejudiced in the right direction. Wells's profile is a fascinating glimpse into a smart woman of a different era and well worth a read.

Vacation from reality

Okay, yes it's insane to go on a vacation when one is unemployed. But logistically, it's the best time to go: no juggling work schedules, no finishing up projects before you go, no taking cell phone calls from harried colleagues. Julie had saved up the money and started planning a getaway this summer and reservations were all in place when I suddenly found myself out of a job. We could have canceled but October brought us more than our share of disappointments and we decided to go for it. Three guesses where we are:
Walking right down the middle of Main Street USA Walking right down the middle of Main Street USA Walking right down the middle of Main Street USA Disney family
h3. More photos:

See "all the WDW photos":

For something completely different…

In the news front, I’m no longer work­ing at FGC. Rea­sons are com­pli­cat­ed, as is often the case. In eight years I did some good work with some great peo­ple. I’ll be miss­ing the hard-working and faith­ful col­leagues and com­mit­tee mem­bers I got to serve with over the years. I’ll be work­ing on build­ing my “tech career” and look for­ward to new chal­lenges. Tran­si­tions are always a bit scary, so hold us in your prayers in this time.

Confessions of an Anti-Sactions Activist

There are a bunch of fas­ci­nat­ing rants against the con­tem­po­rary peace move­ment as the result of an arti­cle by Charles M. Brown, an anti-sanctions activist that has somewhat-unfairly chal­lenged his for­mer col­leagues at the Voic­es in the Wilder­ness. Brown talks quite frankly about his feel­ings that Sad­dam Hus­sein used the peace group for pro­pa­gan­da pur­pos­es and he chal­lenges many of the cul­tur­al norms of the peace move­ment. I don’t know if Brown real­ized just how much the anti-peace move­ment crowd would jump at his arti­cle. It’s got­ten play in InstaPun­dit and In Con­text: None So Blind.
Brown’s cri­tique is inter­est­ing but not real­ly fair: he faults Voic­es for hav­ing a sin­gle focus (sanc­tions) and sin­gle goal (chang­ing U.S. pol­i­cy) but what else should be expect­ed of a small group with no sig­nif­i­cant bud­get? Over the course of his work against sanc­tions Brown start­ed study­ing Iraqi his­to­ry as an aca­d­e­m­ic and he began to wor­ry that Voic­es dis­re­gard­ed his­tor­i­cal analy­sis that “did not take … Desert Storm as their point of depar­ture.” But was he sur­prised? Of course an aca­d­e­m­ic is going to have a longer his­tor­i­cal view than an under­fund­ed peace group. The sharp focus of Voic­es made it a wel­come anom­aly in the peace move­ment and gave it a strength of a clear mes­sage. Yes it was a prophet­ic voice and yes it was a large­ly U.S.-centric voice but as I under­stand it, that was much of the point behind its work: We can do bet­ter in the world. It was Amer­i­cans tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for our own people’s blind­ness and dis­re­gard for human life. That Iraq has prob­lems doesn’t let us off the hook of look­ing at our own culture’s skele­tons.
What I do find fas­ci­nat­ing is his behind-the-scenes descrip­tion of the cul­ture of the 1990s peace move­ment. He talks about the roots of the anti-sanctions activism in Catholic-Worker “dra­matur­gy.” He’s undoubt­ed­ly right that peace activists didn’t chal­lenge Baathist par­ty pro­pa­gan­da enough, that we used the suf­fer­ing of Iraqi peo­ple for our own anti-war pro­pa­gan­da, and that our analy­sis was often too sim­plis­tic. That doesn’t change the fact that hun­dreds of thou­sands of Iraqi chil­dren died from sanc­tions that most Amer­i­cans knew lit­tle about.
The peace move­ment doesn’t chal­lenge its own assump­tions enough and I’m glad Brown is shar­ing a self-critique. I wish he were a bit gen­tler and sus­pect he’ll look back at his work with Voic­es with more char­i­ty in years to come. Did he know the fod­der his cri­tique would give to the hawk­ish groups? Rather than recant his past as per the neo-conservative play­book, he could had offered his reflec­tions and cri­tique with an acknowl­eg­ment that there are plen­ty of good moti­va­tions behind the work of many peace activists. I like a lot of what Brown has to say but I won­der if peace activists will be able to hear it now. I think Brown will even­tu­al­ly find his new hawk­ish friends are at least as caught up in group-think, his­tor­i­cal myopia, and pro­pa­gan­da prop­a­ga­tion as the peo­ple he cri­tiques.
Voic­es in the Wilder­ness has done a lot of good edu­cat­ing Amer­i­cans about the effects of our poli­cies over­seas. It’s been hard and often-thankless work in a cli­mate that didn’t sup­port peace work­ers either moral­ly or finan­cial­ly. The U.S. is a much bet­ter place because of Voic­es and the peace move­ment was cer­tain­ly invig­o­rat­ed by its breath of fresh air.